Robert (gurdonark) wrote,


We watched Ken Burns' 1988 documentary on Thomas Hart Benton tonight. We enjoyed it very much. I'd toured his home, in Kansas City, years ago. I remember his daughter had drawn an angel in colored pencil in the front window. No mention of BBQ was made in the documentary, which is really a shame for a Kansas City film. I wonder, by the way, if Arthur's serves turkey sandwiches.

I liked the way that the movie quoted both supporters and critics, friend and non-friend. Both friend and foe had valid points to make. I love the way that some folks "hang themselves" in the way they approach Benton's work, without the need for the narrator to pull out any rope. Benton's choice to turn away from what his era's cognoscenti felt important and "right" intrigues and on some levels delights. The movie raises the issues of a "populist art" and the perennial problem of the difficulties in living the "populist" persona. I left the film fonder of Benton than when I began, as the film put a fair bit more flesh and flush-faced blood into him than my mildly pastoral prior imagined image of him. I like that Benton never stopped promoting his vision and assuming that he was to do things in the way he had chosen. Even when people mocked, vilified, or ignored his work, he kept hammering away at his chosen path. Was the path a worthy contribution or a dead end? I do not propose to assess this question. I'd rather go see a mural. Our museum in Tyler, 100 miles away, has a great number of the Texas provincial painters. But the movie made me want to tour Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Kansas, seeking out each of the midwestern regional realists, trying to absorb their vision, now nearly lost.

The sense of vocation involves more than money, title, fame or "success". It's one part sheer pertinacity.
I find that if one is doing any worthwhile thing, or any worthless thing, a chorus exists to discourage one.
The voices that say "small businesses always founder" or "you can't do art and work a job" or "you can't try to make money off art" or "there are too many lawyers, and no work to be hand" or even "if you teach, it must be at the university level; if you wish to teach at the university level, you must realize you'll never get the chance".
I like people who ignored those voices in their external world--boxing them, re-defining them. I also liked, though, that Benton did not wait for work to come to him--he went out, and he fought for it, and his spouse helped him sell his paintings. No story-book angels--no easy morals. But I like people who live and work as it life and work matter.

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